Skip to main content
industrialized nations during the corresponding phase of their historical development.
Many distinguishing characteristics of the contemporary world add further dimensions to this concern: the comparatively large absolute size of many of the national populations affected by these high rates of population growth; the low initial levels of income per head as well as other correlated economic indices; the prospects of a widening income differential between developed and developing nations and the implications of such a widening gap in a world with modem transportation and communication; and the vastly increased role assumed by national governments in economic management and their pursuit of explicit development goals that are typically cast in terms of income per head, or, in terms of quantitative objectives with respect to employment and/or shifts in the industrial composition of their labor force-indices that are sensitive to differentials in population growth. Under such circumstances policymakers come to regard population not as an exogeneously determined datum but, at least potentially, as another, if special, variable that may be subjected to conscious manipulation by, and in the interest of, society as a whole.
Variables That Influence Population
The immediate levers of such manipulation may be fertility, mortality, and migration. This paper will consider economic issues of population control only with respect to possible measures affecting the first of these three variables. Although such a treatment leaves out some economic considerations that are relevant in formulating a general economic policy, it reflects reasonably closely the actual focus of public attention and debate on population control. There arc some obvious reasons why fertility is the only potentially important variable in this context.
Briefly, the possibilities of a reduction of mortality that could appreciably affect the intrinsic rates of population growth have either been already exploited, even in the developing world, or such mortality gains are in the process of being rapidly attained. A reversal, as a matter of deliberate policy, of the public health and related policies that are responsible for these achievements must be considered inconceivable if only because of the high valuation, even in narrow economic terms, that should be attached to survival per se; and, second, because of the strong presumption that multifarious positive connections exist between low mortality on the one hand and economic modernization of a society, interpreted in the widest sense (including the eventual modernization of traditional patterns of fertility as well) on the other hand. Naturally, these arguments leave unsolved many vexing problems with respect to mortality control, such as determining the optimum level of allocation of scarce resources that should be devoted to public health. How-